published: 21 /
On a recent British tour with Doug Hoekstra, the dynamic Kat Parsons proved to be a sensation. In an interview with John Clarkson, she talks about her debut album "Framing Caroline' and her recent decision to move to L.A.
Edinburgh. November 1st. 6.00 p.m. GMT time. Night falls, and autumn turns to winter. A cold, light wind rattles through the city, and, for the first time since March, the pavements become tarred with frost. Against the craggy, illuminated backdrop of the castle, the sky is stark and clear. It is Doug Hoekstra and Kat Parsons' first time in Scotland. The laid back Nashvillian, a veteran of six solo albums, and his dynamite-voiced backing singer, who is also playing several opening slots for him to promote her own debut album 'Framing Caroline', are in the final week of a whirlwind month long European tour. Today in particular has been busy. The two Americans' day started with an early morning radio session in London. Since then they have driven three hundred and seventy miles and seven hours North to Edinburgh, where they are about to play a free show of Hoekstra's songs in the city's Virgin Megastores. Tonight, before they finish, they will move on again, fifty miles West to Glasgow, where they will each perform a set in a local rock club.
The two musicians are tired, the only respite in today's schedule a brisk,icy twenty minute walk down Princes Street, shortly after they arrived in the city at four. The tour has, however, been going
well. Hoekstra's latest two CDs 'Around the Margins' and 'The Past is Never Past' have been attracting a lot of interest, while all 'Framing Caroline' CDs that Parsons brought over with her on the plane, and modestly thought that she would never sell, are all long since gone. Both the Americans are in high spirits, enjoying the moment, looking forward too to tonight's gig in Glasgow, and tomorrow to taking their hired car on to Stranraer where they will catch a boat to Ireland for the final few dates of the tour.
As a venue, the Virgin Megastores is a disappointment. A make shift stage has been set up near the front of shop,. Every time a customer comes through its glass doors the two musicians are met with a chilling blast of air, and Parsons spends much of the hour long set huddled into her thick Afghan coat. The acoustics are poor also, the rambling metallics and pipings of the Megastore's walls and ceilings, dampening and muffling much of the subtlety of Hoekstra's songs and arrangements. There are difficulties with Hoekstra's guitar as well. Its jack keeps sliding out, and Parsons spends much of the first part of the set, with her thumb pressed into its back, until a member of the Megastore's staff can find some sticky tape to solve the problem.
It would take a lot more than this , however, to moisten the two musicians' happy enthusiasm. Hoekstra is laconically charming. He wonders aloud at one point, if, like Jennifer Lopez he was to
abbreviate his name for musical purposes to Doug Ho whether it would constitute more album sales. Many of his songs are introduced with similar surreal hilarious Bill Hicks style monologues. It is Parsons though who proves to be the real revelation. A perpetual, grin, despite the cold, is plastered across her face, and her swooping, often clearly improvised vocals are the perfect complement and contrast to Hoekstra's half whispered, half sung muses. Acrobatic,feisty, they soar with an unbridled passion and energy, dropping to a murmur at one moment, raising to a roar the next. The effect is magnificent, and it is obvious that she is having the time of her life....
13th December. Baltimore. 5.00 p.m. American time. "I really enjoy performing" Kat Parsons says, home for Christmas and talking to Pennyblackmusic some six weeks later , on the phone from her parents' home in Maryland. " I always feel very comfortable on stage, and I really love it. It is my favourite part of being in the music business. I love the connection with people , and relating to them though my songs."
Parsons was born in Vienna in 1978, and comes from a rich musical pedigree. Her father is a former Viennese opera house singer, while her mother is a professional rock keyboardist and vocalist, who released a solo album in the seventies. The family moved back from Austria to a suburb of Baltimore when she was a toddler, and Parsons began performing in public at an early age, making regular appearances on stage at community functions and benefits with her parents and her brother.
"There was no particular moment when I said "This is what I want to do " she reflects. "I always enjoyed performing with my family. There was always music in our house. My brother plays a number of instruments, and also sings, and, as a family, we performed a lot together, so it was always a part of my life. Nobody pushed me into being a child star. It was all very organic the way it worked out, but, as I grew up and people asked me what I wanted to do, that was what I wanted to do."
It was when she went to university in Chicago, where she majored in Theatre Studies, that Parsons began to write her own songs, and also to perform professionally for the first time.
"When I was at university, I desperately wanted to be in a band" she laughs. "I would go to bands that were already formed and want to be in their band, but as they were all already formed, they all said "No". I then decided that if I wanted to sing I was going to have to do it myself. That's when I first picked up the guitar to learn a few chords and started writing my own music. At my first gig, I was supposed to be performing with another guy that I knew from university, and to be doing a set of cover songs plus a couple of my originals, but at the last minute he backed out of the show, so that encouraged me to write more of my own songs and to put them in the show. It all went from there really."
By the time she graduated from university in mid-1999, Parsons had become a regular on the Chicago rock circuit, performing both solo and also in accompaniment, in everything from clubs to outdoor stages to coffee houses. She had also been offered a deal by a local independent label, Waterdogmusic, with whom in her last weeks as a student she recorded 'Framing Caroline'.
The ten songs on 'Framing Caroline' are a mixture of heartfelt soft and delicate ballads and upbeat country pop rockers. The feisty title track tells of Parsons' exploits as an under 21 in which she used to regularly borrow her older friend Caroline's ID, so that she could get into bars and rock clubs to play open nights. The breezy opener 'Masses' captures all the adolescent insecurity of an adolescent girl, desperate to place her own individual and distinctive mark on the world, but unsure how. The reflective ballad 'Two Different Hearts ' meanwhile depicts the fall out between two lovers who have lost their way, while 'Wonder', on which Parsons is accompanied simply by a piano, is a tribute to a long lost love.
"They are all based on past experiences" Parsons admits. " They may not all be autobiographical, but there's got to be something there that I can relate to, and that I have experienced either myself, or with a friend.Tthere has to be a part of me there, if I am to have an honest exchange with an audience"
Parsons is an extraordinary presence on 'Framing Caroline', her gymnastic and wiry vocals, impressively conveying and transpiring a wide range of emotions, from joy and jubilance, to heartbreak and despair. Her lyrics are also equally adapt, often summing up a complete situation in a matter of a few words. It is, however, an album that never quite equals of all of its parts, and which is also deeply flawed.
Rush produced, it was rehearsed in a day with a hastily assembled band of backing musicians, and recorded on the next, and suffers distinctly as a result .Many of the tunes have a stodgy sound and are indistinct from one another, while a lot of
Parson' s delicate, originally acoustic arrangements have been lost in the clumsy, under rehearsed production. It is a fault that Parsons freely admits, and one which, while remaining fiercely proud of 'Framing Caroline', she has learnt a lot from.
"I think that more time on the album would have been better" she reflects. "It was a great experience for me for my first effort. It taught me a lot. I learnt a lot from it, including never to do an album again in two days! Recording it in that time definitely limited the possibilities of what we could do in terms of overdubs and other things. I wanted to get the album out though before I left university. Much of the following I had was there, so it needed to be done in as short a period of time as possible, and I wanted to get it out before everyone went their seperate ways. In that sense, it served its purpose."
In the time since she graduated, and 'Framing Caroline' was released, Parsons has spent much of the time on the road, and has toured in both the United States and Europe, She met Hoekstra at a gig in Nashville, and the connection has proved a valuable one. They play, as their schedules allow, regular shows together, and she has also appeared as a backing singer on two of his albums, the studio-based 'The Past is Never Past' and a limited edition live CD 'Live 9/9/2000'. Her music has also made appearances on MTV, and in various indie films.
She recently came first in a songwriting contest organised by the guitargirls.com website with a re-recording of 'Does She Cry', one of the ballads from 'Framing Caroline', amd this won her some valuable recording time in a Los Angeles studio. The trip proved successful, and having made some contacts, she recently made the decision to relocate there "because the industry is there." Showcasing her talents in local clubs and venues, she is currently working on tracks for a second album , and hoping eventually to find a major deal.
":What I am doing now is experimenting with lots of different sounds" she concludes. "I have recorded tracks with several different people and I am trying to find out exactly what I want the next album to sound like both metaphorically and stylistically. I am taking much more of my time with it, more with the songs, and more with exploring production. My songwriting has grown a lot in the three years since I recorded 'Framing Caroline' , so I am really excited,. The basis of getting this new effort out is to be patient and not to rush it like first time. It is important to find the balance somewhere.As soon as I have figured that out, I am
going to start shopping it around and to try to get the full record out."
7.00 p.m. 1st November Edinburgh Virgin Megastores. The set draws to a close, and Hoekstra thanks the audience and the store. Parsons is due on stage in Glasgow in an hour and half 's time. The two musicians almost immediately start unplugging equipment and packing up, but a small crowd have gathered around the front of the stage, seeking autographs from them both, wanting to know more. While it has been all Hoekstra's compositions that they have played tonight, and her CDs are all gone, her voice alone is enough to carry several extra sales for 'Framing Caroline'. She finds herself, not for the first time in this last week, standing at the edge of the stage, passing a mailing list around, thanking people and promising to send out for $12 copies to anyone who gets in touch. From Virgin Megastores in Edinburgh to the mecca of Los Angeles, it is a long way. It is
further still to the top, but Parsons has talent, enthusiasm and
stage presence and the ambition and potential to be one of the stars of tomorrow.